Chapter 31 (Ford)

Ford found himself in a well-lit room within King Valen’s castle. Bookshelves lined the walls, and tables with an odd assortment of items were scattered around the room. His attention was drawn to a glass box that contained a butterfly. Its wings glowed green and yellow, and it gently fluttered around inside its tank. The flying insect was eerily similar to the one he’d seen back when he’d journeyed into the ruins with Cora and Everin.

Kyzella and Saphine stood on either side of him. Kyzella had carried him for nearly an hour as they traveled to Doronhine. She’d finally lowered herself to the ground and released him when they were inside the main walls of the Doronhine castle. The three angels had marched him into the massive stone fortress and guided him to this room. On the way, Ichoron had left to get the burn on his hand treated by a healer. He’d told the Kyzella and Saphine that he would rejoin them in McCarthy’s study when he was finished.

That was where Ford found himself now – in the private study of the man he’d been helping Everin track down for the past week. The man who’d killed his friend’s parents. Ford’s heart pounded. His instinct was to bolt, but he knew better than to try with an angel on either side of him.

After a long and uncomfortable wait in the room with the silent angels, the doors swung open. A man strode in. He was tall and somewhat lanky. If Ford had to guess, he would’ve said the visitor was in his early forties. From the confidence with which he carried himself in the presence of the angels, Ford knew instantly that this was McCarthy.

As McCarthy entered, Ford sensed the angels on either side of him kneel.

“My lord, you have made me into who I am. I thank you,” they spoke in unison.

“You are welcome, my children. Rise,” McCarthy said.

Ford shivered at the man’s voice. It felt like every syllable was carefully measured. That was the impression McCarthy gave – that everything he did was cold and calculated.

McCarthy turned to look at Ford. He ran his eyes up and down the boy’s frame disapprovingly.

“This isn’t Everin. Explain,” he demanded.

Kyzella stood. “My lord, we attempted to capture the boy, but it was too difficult to contain him while simultaneously holding our powers back to avoid killing him.”

McCarthy folded his arms and raised an eyebrow. Kyzella gestured at Ford. “This is one of Everin’s companions he was traveling with. We told Everin that we’d brought his friend to Doronhine. It’s only a matter of time before Everin shows up at our front door.”

Ford paled. He was bait. They were using him to trap Everin.

McCarthy frowned. “That’s not a terrible plan, but it requires that we wait. King Valen only has so many days left before he needs to leave Doronhine to lead the front lines of his war.”

Saphine chimed in, “Everin was only a half day’s ride away from Doronhine when we ran into him. He should be here soon.”

McCarthy nodded. “Very well. We’ll let King Valen handle him when he arrives.” His eyes narrowed at the two angels. “Now, don’t think that I’m going to let the issue of your performance slide so easily.”

Ford thought he could see Saphine flinch out of the corner of his eye.

“I’m surprised that a single boy with no training on how to use his abilities proved to be too much for you. Explain to me exactly what happened,” McCarthy said.

“We attacked the monastery he was hiding in to force him to reveal himself,” Kyzella said. “Ichoron tried to incapacitate him, but Everin fought him off. I tried to trap him with my energy, but some of the monks who were hiding him decided to interfere. When I tried to trap him again, I felt like my power had been drained – the same as the last time I faced Everin. I’m worried that something may be going wrong with my abilities. I felt like all my stores of energy had been depleted. When I tried to trap him a second time, he was able to break through my wall easily.”

Saphine quickly interjected, “I felt the same thing happen to me. As we kept fighting, I felt like my blasts were getting weaker and weaker.”

McCarthy nodded. “Interesting. Kyzella, continue.”

“After Everin continued fighting us off, we decided to use the backup plan we’d discussed. We grabbed his friend, told him that we were taking him to Doronhine, and then took off.” Kyzella gestured at Ford as she spoke.

The tall man scrutinized his two angels. “Did either of you notice or feel anything odd during your encounter with Everin?”

“Well, I don’t really know how to explain it,” Saphine said. “But I felt good afterwards. I can’t think of another word to describe it. I know that our mission hadn’t been entirely successful, but immediately after the fight, I felt happy, as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”

“I noticed that as well,” Kyzella said. “I was worried we’d been drugged unknowingly, but the feeling faded after we left the monastery. Could Everin be interfering with our minds?”

McCarthy stroked his chin, deep in thought. Finally, he spoke.

“Interesting, I’ll have to share this with King Valen. Kyzella, I’ll explain what Everin’s doing to you at a later time.”

Just then, the study door opened. A muscular arm held it aside, allowing a short girl to enter the room. The owner of the arm was Ichoron, who entered behind her. Ford had never seen the angel without his armor before. Now, he could see exactly how powerful the massive young man’s build was. Ichoron knelt before McCarthy and gave the standard greeting. When McCarthy bid him to stand, the girl spoke up.

“I heard the angels dropped the ball again this morning.”

“Yes, Mao, it would appear that they only managed to capture Everin’s friend, and not Everin himself,” McCarthy answered.

The girl whom McCarthy had addressed as Mao said, “Do you think we should punish them, sir? King Valen expects results. He could drain them a bit. That might encourage them to get their act together.”

McCarthy shook his head. “Not this time, Mao. If the report Kyzella gave me is accurate, then we’ll need them at full strength before the end of the day.” He looked at the three angels. “Stand guard outside the study. I want to have a private conversation with our guest. Mao, I need you to deliver a message to King Valen. Tell him that I believe we may have finally reached our goal. Everin will probably arrive around noon, and I’d like to meet and discuss our plan for him before then.’”

Mao nodded and exited the study. The three angels followed suit, positioning themselves in the hallway outside the room and letting the door swing shut. Ford considered making a move now that he was alone in the room with McCarthy, but the only way out was through the door guarded by the angels. Plus, he could see a wickedly long knife hanging from the man’s belt. He shuddered as he briefly wondered if this was the same blade that had taken the lives of Everin’s mother and father.

“Please, take a seat. You look awfully uncomfortable just standing there.” McCarthy gestured at a chair sitting a few feet behind Ford.

Ford glared at McCarthy as he cautiously lowered himself into the seat.

“Might I ask your name?” the man asked. “Mine’s McCarthy Loxborne,” he added, as though he’d obliged Ford to sharing his name by sharing his own first.

“My name is Ford Holten, and I know who you are,” Ford spat.

“Oh, I assume Everin’s told you about me, then?”

“Yeah, I know what kind of sick stuff you did to his family, and I’m sure you’ve orphaned those other angels, too. You’re a monster.”

McCarthy sighed. “You’re right, what I did to Everin’s parents was…unpleasant. However, I can assure you that Everin’s circumstances are somewhat unique. You see, King Valen and I were trying something new – shaping Everin into a potential angel. The others – Kyzella, Saphine, and Ichoron, I give you my word that I didn’t touch their families.”

“Then how’d you get your dirty hands on them if you didn’t kill off their parents first?” Ford demanded.

“As a matter of practice, I usually don’t divulge details on the angel project,” McCarthy said. “But I feel that many secrets will be made public soon, and you’re in no position to spill them, so I’ll humor you. Kyzella was a runaway. Her parents were abusive alcoholics. Saphine actually was an orphan, through no action of my own. Ichoron was a cripple. Birth defect of some kind – frail muscles and fragile bones. Each of the angels had their own unfortunate circumstances that made them prime candidates for my little experiment.”

Ford didn’t know how to respond to that.

“This is all…an experiment?” he asked.

“Of course,” McCarthy said. He began to pace up and down the study in front of Ford. “I am a scientist after all. I’ve spent my entire adult life studying the old gods, angels, and phenomena that you wouldn’t even begin to grasp.”

“You study the old gods? They’re dead. They have been for hundreds or even thousands of years,” Ford said.

McCarthy smiled. “My, not the response I was expecting from one who bears the same name as the god of circumstance and forgiveness.”

“My parents have a bit more faith than I do. The old gods are dead and not coming back.” Ford could hear the bitterness in his own voice.

“True enough,” McCarthy conceded. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from what they left behind.” He turned and gestured at the shelves of tattered books behind him.

“I’ve spent the past twenty years learning everything I could about the world of the old gods. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve uncovered,” he said. “Tell me, Ford, what do you know about hardglass?”

Ford frowned. He couldn’t tell where this was going. “It’s a material that can be recovered at ruins of the old gods’ cities. It can be melted down and shaped into tools and containers. Is there much else to it?”

“If only you knew,” McCarthy said. “The old gods had a different name for hardglass. They called it ‘plastic,’ and they used it for everything. We’ve only scratched the surface in terms of our applications of the material. The old gods crafted nearly everything out of hardglass, and they had different varieties of the stuff. Some types were transparent, while others were every color you could imagine. Guess what they made it out of,” McCarthy insisted.

Ford shrugged. It didn’t seem like the man really cared about what he would’ve guessed.

“Giant monsters called ‘dinosaurs’ that ruled the earth before the old gods or even the titans of the ancient age. They turned the remains of these beasts into the hardglass that we use today. Imagine what the world would be like if we could figure out how to do that. Imagine how much power that would put in our hands. Hardglass isn’t a unique case either. The alumin armor that we outfit out soldiers with also comes from the ruins. The old gods called the metal ‘aluminum.’ You wouldn’t believe what they used it for.”

McCarthy didn’t wait for Ford to answer. “They crafted it into cans for drinks. Try to wrap your head around that – beings so much more powerful than us that the material we use for our most advanced armor is simply a beverage container for them.”

“What’s the point of all this?” Ford snapped. “None of this is useful information.”

McCarthy didn’t waver at the outburst. He looked Ford in the eyes. “Hardglass and alumin might have some more useful applications in the future, but the area of research I’m most interested in is a form of energy the old gods wielded in their last battle. Nuclear energy. It’s so powerful that some places still have residual pockets of radiation from the stuff a thousand years later. The old gods didn’t understand exactly how it worked, and that was part of their undoing. I’ll admit that I don’t understand all there is to know about it, but King Valen and I believe that we can use it to win this war we’ve entered.”

“Nuclear…” Ford paused thinking. He’d heard that name before. After a moment it hit him. “That was one of the words on the building with the pool inside. The one that gave Everin his power. You’re using that energy to create angels?”

McCarthy raised his eyebrows. “It appears I may have shared more than I intended. You were able to read the text on the building?”

Ford nodded. “My parents taught me the script of the old gods.”

McCarthy let out a sigh. “Well, the answer is yes. Exposure to the energy left in the pool’s water is one of the factors involved in creating an angel.”

“My…” Ford struggled to pick the right word. A whirlwind of feelings stirred inside him as he thought of her face. “My friend, Cora and I, we jumped into the pool, too. So why didn’t we turn into angels?”

“Like I said, it’s a factor. You also have to be in an extreme emotional state when you enter the water to trigger a mutation. Sometimes there’s a delay between when you’re exposed to the water and when the angel abilities manifest themselves. However, it’s been more than a few days, so I think it’s safe to say that you and your friend aren’t so lucky. Since you didn’t experience an angel mutation, I must regrettably inform you that you’ve probably caused yourself lasting harm.”

“What do you mean?” Ford asked.

McCarthy shrugged. “The whole structure is seeping with a dangerous energy that the old gods called ‘radioactivity.’ It’s the same energy that’s altered the wildlife in the entire surrounding forest. Perhaps you saw some of it while you were there?”

McCarthy gestured at the glowing yellow butterfly resting in its tank on the table.

Ford nodded, and McCarthy continued. “If your bodies didn’t have the response Everin’s did, then the radiation exposure probably took a good twenty years off both your lives.”

Ford gaped. He felt a weight in his stomach as realization hit him. Had he and Cora thrown away a third of their lives by trying to save Everin from drowning?

“How do you know that?”

McCarthy flashed him an annoyed expression. “I’m a scientist. I study these things. Plus, you and your friend weren’t the first kids to jump in the water and not undergo a reaction. I’ve been finding kids with screwed up emotions and throwing them in that pool for years. Most of them don’t undergo an angel mutation. Some of the failures have already started to develop tumors due to their exposure. Something the old gods called ‘cancer’.”

Ford struggled to control his breathing. His hands clenched into fists. How many young people had McCarthy kidnapped and condemned to death?

“Don’t look so worried,” McCarthy said. “Given the way things are going, you might not live that long anyways.”

McCarthy leaned in.

“Now, I’ve shared my knowledge with you. I must ask you one question before I go. Answer truthfully. I’m going to find out the answer once Everin gets here anyways, and if I find out you lied to me, I’ll make what I did to Everin’s parents look merciful.”

Ford shivered. All pretenses of civility had vanished from his tone. It was as if McCarthy had just ripped off a mask revealing the cruel monster that Everin had described.

He unclenched his fists and looked the man in the eye.

“What do you want to know?”

“I already suspect that I know that answer, but I want to confirm it,” McCarthy said. “Everin can see sadness, can’t he? That’s where he’s getting the energy for his abilities from – other peoples’ sadness?”

“He doesn’t just see sadness. He can see all of the three main forms of suffering – fear, anger, and sadness.”

McCarthy grinned wickedly. “Even better than I could’ve hoped for. King Valen will be delighted to hear that Everin’s experiment was a resounding success.”

“How did you not know that?” Ford demanded. “Couldn’t you just ask the other angels about the auras they can see?”

McCarthy smiled mischievously and shook his head. “The angels can’t see any auras. That’s why Everin is so special.”

“Then where do the angels’ powers come from?” Ford asked.

McCarthy only shook his head. “You’ll find out soon enough when Everin arrives. Either that, or you’ll be dead.”

Ford stared at the man across the table, trying to understand the implications of what he was saying. McCarthy pushed his chair back and rose from his seat.

“Well, Ford, this has been a pleasant conversation. I’ll have to add your name to my data on everyone who’s ventured into that water. If you’ve got nothing else to say, I’ll be off. I have some preparations to make for your friends’ arrival. The angels will stay with you to make sure you don’t get yourself into any trouble while I’m gone.”

Ford felt his heart start to race as McCarthy turned to leave. He was going to be left here, trapped, waiting for Everin and Cora to fall into this monster’s hands. His heart thudded in his chest as he kicked into action.

“No!” He grunted the word as he jumped out of his chair. He ran towards McCarthy.

Ford crossed the room in a matter of steps and prepared to tackle the tall man when McCarthy whirled around. There was a glint of silver in his hand, and Ford had to skid to a halt to avoid impaling himself on the knife that McCarthy had produced. His fake cheerful demeanor had vanished. There was a scowl plastered across his face.

“Try that again, and I’ll cut off your hand. Understood?” McCarthy growled the threat.

Ford nodded. He felt the fight draining from his limbs as the walls of his prison seemed to draw in closer around him.

McCarthy spun back around, stowing the knife somewhere in the folds of his cloak. He opened the door and exited. The three angels returned to the interior of the study. Three pairs of watchful eyes rested on Ford, but he had too many thoughts racing through his mind to even notice them.

Next chapter:

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